Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Daily Happy #6

Finding spare change...

You know the feeling I'm talking about. Whether it's in the bottom of your purse or caught in a street drain, giving a home to a lost, mistreated buck or two is always rewarding.

Today, I spotted $15 in tightly washed bills in my dryer (nestled between a soccer sock and a shrunken button down sweater) and welcomed them, all cleansed and warm, back into my life.

But then I had an idea...

I took $10 of those dollars and tucked them safely away in my wallet in preparation for a possible new pair of shoes (don't worry little dollars, I won't let you near the government...).  The other $5, however, I placed neatly in the pocket of one of PID's heavy winter coats.

Though I know there is a chance he'll read this, I'm hoping that he'll forget all about it when it finally comes time to put on that coat in December and gets to experience his very own happy.

I encourage you to try it some time. Find your daily happy, whatever it may be, and pay it forward to someone else. A friend, a stranger, a son or daughter...  The feeling of passing along that happy creates a whole brand new happy for you to enjoy.

Give it a try. Let me know how it goes :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Daily Happy #5

A new book...

Let's talk about seven years ago.  I was a college junior majoring English Writing and that meant reading books.  A lot of books. Moving on to 12 years ago I was a high school senior in AP English which meant reading books. Also, a lot of books. From the 5th grade until about 2008 I saw reading as a chore and the intense desire to crack open a crisp new book had feigned from what it once had been back in the days of Nancy Drew and The Boxcar Children. For 13 years I despised reading.  It was something I "had" to do rather than something I wanted to do.


Flash forward to the present and days like today when I can hardly wait until I have downtime to read the next chapter of whatever book I'm reading.  I guess I have to put on my shame face and admit that I have this beat up, ragged, over read book to thank for my new found love (/obsession):

Childish? Maybe.  But in early 2008 I succumbed to the mass hysteria and invested in this book (which took me approximately 6.5 hours to complete) and my life was forever changed. Since that day I have renewed my love of reading and for that, I am forever indebted to Ms. Stephenie Meyer and her very odd dream.

This afternoon I finished a book called Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.  I found this book because of my affection for David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.  Wroblewski strongly suggested Crooked Letter and immediately I knew I had to check it out.

In an attempt to avoid novel talk, I'll get back to the point.  When you get to the point in a book that you can't stop reading - it's such an amazing feeling.  But one that is immediately followed by the exciting feeling of pacing the aisles of a book store, breathing in the espresso and fresh paperback scents, and choosing your next adventure.

Tomorrow I start a new book: Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern (who wrote P.S. I Love You).  It's a nod to my chick flick mentality, but I'm excited none the less.

 I love the feel of a new book and the way I get lost in it during my 45 minute bus ride that seems to only last a moment when I'm reading.

For those of you who have lost the love of reading, I pray you'll find the book that helps you discover it.  The one that makes you find the time to escape from reality and invent your own characters and scenes and voices.  I hope you'll rediscover it and share with me the books that took you to that wonderful place.

Happy reading....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The World's Simplest Dessert

We all know I love a good cupcake (a little too much), but sometimes I'm in the mood for a dessert that doesn't require 35 minutes and 17 ingredients to create.

That "sometimes" happened to me today.  PID made a delicious (and healthy!) pork dinner, but I was craving something sweet to follow it up.  Shockingly, I didn't have any cupcakes in the house, so I opened the fridge to see what might inspire me.

What came next, I found worthy of sharing.

On shelf one, I noticed a package of Pillsbury crescent rolls.  Shelf two a jar of chocolate fudge.  We were getting there!  I stared a bit longer and just before giving up and closing the door I spotted a small jar of Guava Jelly that I used when I made Jelly Doughtnut Cupcakes a few months ago and haven't touched since.  Sold.

And thus begins the creation of the easiest (and, might I add, most surprisingly delicious) dessert ever:

Here's what you'll need:

1 cookie sheet
1 sheet aluminum foil (they're messy, so you'll want it!)
1 package Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
4 heaping tbs. hot fudge
4 tbs. of your favorite jelly or jam

Here's what you'll do:

1.) Line the cookie sheet with the aluminum foil
2.) Roll out the dough and smear 1/2 tbs hot fudge in a thin layer on each triangle
3.) Smear 1/2 tbs of jelly on top of the fudge

4.) Roll as the crescent roll package tells you -- but make a point to lift as you roll so you don't "squish" out all the good stuff

5.) Bake for 13 minutes at 375 degrees

And um...that's it! Two minutes of "work" and 13 minutes of "waiting" is all it takes for a very tasty treat!

It will come out ooey and gooey but completely delicious. Give it a go next time you're short on time and big on taste.

My Daily Happy #4

Small town events...

Whether it's a fair, a block party, or (in this week's case) a regatta, small town events pack a lot of punch without giving your wallet a black eye.

This weekend PID and I traveled with our friends to their hometown of Marietta, Ohio to enjoy the Marietta Riverfront Roar.  This event cost us absolutely nothing to attend save the few dollars we spend on deliciously greasy fair food.

I can't tell you how wonderful it felt to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city to spend a weekend of simplicity with good friends and very little spending money... not to mention hilariously enticing food truck signs like these...

So next time you're looking to enjoy yourself, consider a trip to the "country" (wherever that may be for you) to check out a low cost weekend to enjoy a local fair (and the corndogs that are sure to be waiting for you).

What's your favorite fair food?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bake like an American

Independence Day means cookouts, barbecues and pot lucks.  So uh...what are YOU gonna bring?

Hot dogs, potato salad, corn on the cob -- all deliciously necessary for a 4th of July party, but all predictable.  So this year, why not show up with a few cupcakes that will blow everyone's patriotic socks off?  Here are a few ideas to inspire you:

Red White and Blue Cupcakes 

Here's what you'll need for the cupcakes:
Your favorite red velvet cake recipe (halved -- just enough for 6 cupcakes)
Your favorite white cake recipe (halved -- just enough for 6 cupcakes)
1/4 c. blueberries
1 drop blue food coloring

When you've got both batters ready, take your white cake batter and separate it half into two bowls.

Take your blueberries and put them in a food processor until they're in liquid form. Add those blueberries and a drop of blue food coloring to one of the bowls of white cake batter -- mix until smooth.

Line a cupcake tray with 12 baking cups and start with your red velvet mix, putting no more than 1 tablespoon of batter in to each cup and smoothing it out until it's level.  Then layer the same amount of your white cake on top of that, then you're blueberry cake on top of that (the blueberry cake should be runnier than the other two batters, so it will need to go on top and will be easier to spread).

Bake for 20 minutes at 350.

As it bakes, you can get started on your buttercream.  Here's what you'll need:
1.5 sticks of butter
4 c. powdered sugar
1.5 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 container of Cool Whip

Cream your butter on medium speed and gradually add 2 cups of powdered sugar, 1/4 c. at a time. Add your vanilla and a few spoonfuls of Cool Whip.  Then, continue mixing on medium speed, alternating 1/4 c. of powdered sugar with small spoonfuls of Cool Whip until you've added the remaining 2 cups of sugar.

When your cupcakes are cool, line your piping bag (or a Ziplock bag with a hole cut in the bottom corner) with one line of blue food coloring and one line of red food coloring. Fill your piping bag with your (what should be) white frosting and ice your cupcakes!

Delicious AND festive, these multi-dimensional cupcakes are a great addition to any party.  But if you're looking for a more classic approach, give these a try!

Apple Pie Cupcakes

Here's what you'll need for the cupcakes:
Your favorite yellow cake recipe (for 12 cupcakes)
3-4 tsp. cinnamon
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced thin
1 stick of butter, chilled
2-3 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tbs. brown sugar (reserved)

Mix about 3/4 tsp in to your favorite yellow cake batter until smooth.  Fill 12 cupcake cups and bake for 18-20 minutes at 350.

While they're baking, you can get started on your filling. Take a small, oven safe dish (I used a 6" cake pan) and cover the bottom with apple slices, then sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar and thin slices of butter -- just like you do with an Apple Pie.  Repeat these layers three times and cover the dish with aluminum foil riddled with holes. Set aside.

When your cupcakes have finished baking, remove them and increase the temperature of the oven to 375.  As it's heating, you can get started on your pie-crust garnish.  
Here's what you'll need:
3/4 c. flour
1-2 heaping tbs. of crisco
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/8 c. cold water

Mix 1/2 c. of flour and the next three ingredients in a medium bowl -- you can use your hands to do this as long as you're okay with them getting messy! Mush and kneed until the crisco is well mixed with the flour and the two begin to form small balls. Then add the water and continue to mix in to a ball. Put your final 1/4 c. of flour on a sheet of wax paper and kneed in to a ball, then use a rolling pin to flatten.  Next, take a star-shaped cookie cutter and cut 12 stars out of the dough.

Place the stars on a cookie sheet and place them and  the apple dish in to the oven. Allow your apples to cook for 25-30 minutes, but remove your stars after about 10 (or when golden brown).

When your apples are finished, place them in a food processor and add 1 tbs. of brown sugar. Pulse 4-5 times until the apples are chopped, but still maintain their integrity. Core your cinnamon cupcakes and fill the centers with the apple mixture. 

 Frost them with vanilla bean buttercream and garnish with your pie dough stars. Nothing's more American that a delicious apple pie! 

Either of these patriotic cupcakes are sure to be a hit at your holiday gathering.  If you give them a try, stop back and let me know how it went!

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Vanilla Bean buttercream is one of my go-to's.  It's delicious on any classic cupcake but it also serves as a palate teaser tasting just like ice cream! So any time you're looking to make a cupcake that would taste great "a la mode" but don't want to worry about having to continuously scoop ice cream, try this trick instead!

Here's what you'll need:
1.5 sticks of butter (room temperature)
4 c. powdered sugar
2 tbs. whole milk or heavy cream (do NOT use skim -- it will make it runny)
1.5 tbs. vanilla extract
Seeds of one whole vanilla bean

Begin by creaming your butter and gradually add 2 c. of powdered sugar, 1/4 c. at a time.  Next, add 1 tbs of the milk or cream and your vanilla. Then continue to add the rest of your powdered sugar, 1/4 c. at a time, and finish with your final tbs. of milk or cream.

When it's reached a desired consistency, slice your vanilla bean right down the middle, lengthwise.  Take your knife and glide it along each half of the bean to seemingly flatten it while pulling the seeds and adding them to the buttercream.  Continue mixing until the seeds have fully integrated in to the frosting.

Voila!  Pipe or frost it on to your favorite cupcake for that "a la mode" taste.  It's pictured here on my delicious Root Beer Float cupcakes! Notice how you can see the vanilla bean seeds?

What's your favorite "go-to" frosting? Chocolate? Cream cheese?  If you have a recipe blog, share your favorite recipe posts with us here!